Seattle: A Tale of Two Festivals

If there are pills for “poetry stamina,” Seattleites will do well to seek them out this week, as two different festivals, The Cascadia Poetry Festival and The April Festival will hold dozens of events, readings and classes across several different neighborhoods and venues in the city.


The April Festival, running March 22 to April 1 is chock full of parties, readings, a small press expo and a lit crawl. This year’s festival is a continuation of a festival organized by Capitol Hill’s now-defunct Pilot Books. The festival continues to grow each year and organizer Willie Fitzgerald explained that the goal is to celebrate small presses while keeping the spirit of the beloved bookstore alive.

Fitzgerald also described why the festival is important for independent and small presses.

“I think everyone at APRIL feels strongly that independent literature is immensely important to writing in general. It’s really inspiring to see presses like Wave, Octopus, Poor Claudia, Future Tense — and even larger outfits like Fantagraphics and smaller magazines like Pageboy. All of these people are publishing work without intending or expecting to make a whole lot of money, if any. They’re publishing writing because they believe in the value of the work itself,” Fitzgerald said.

Highlights from the festival include reading parties organized by literary journals PANK, HOARSE and Pageboy, Recto Verso: An Independent Press Expo at the Richard Hugo House and opening and closing parties featuring author Rebecca Brown, Stranger editor Christopher Frizzelle and soul-funk DJ dancing.

“There’s just so much going on in the small press world, and once someone reads one of these books they’ll be hooked. They’ll remember the author’s name, they’ll remember the press, and they’ll tell other people. They just need to hear about it for the first time. Exposure, ultimately, helps these presses stay alive and, hopefully, thrive. Which means they’re bringing us, the reading population, more writing,” Fitzgerald said.

The complete April Festival schedule can be found here.


The Cascadia Poetry Festival, which runs from March 23 to 25, is described by main organizer and SPLAB (short for “spoken word lab”) director Paul Nelson as intended to celebrate different elements of Cascadian poetry, such as shared experience, bioregionalism, West Coast indigenous culture and the contrast between what Nelson sees as the attitudes of the West Coast and the East Coast in terms of process and, interestingly, the relationship to the environment.

The festival, sponsored by Poets & Writers, Humanities Washington, the Elysian Brewery and the Seward Park Environmental and Audubon Center, among others, does emphasize the poetry of place and environment in Cascadia with the panel and nature walk “Igniting the Green Fuse: Women on Eco-Poetry,” the workshop “Reading in the Rain,” and a reading from contributors to Introducing a Sense of Place: The Washington State Geospatial Poetry Anthology. Readings and workshops will be conducted by Sam Hamill, Judith Roche, Tim McNulty and others.

Nelson explained the focus on Cascadia.

“I was never a fan of borders and, like [Gary] Snyder, prefer to honor the natural ones over the straight lines decided by generals and politicians. I also would like this conference to help publicize the notion of the similarities we share with Vancouver, Portland and elsewhere in Cascadia and contrast them with the lack of same with Washington, D.C., Ottawa, Toronto and New York. The political priorities of the East Coast tend to share the European preoccupation with competition/domination, an ethos (or lack of one) that threatens to take out the planet’s ecosystems. There is an openness to something more cooperative out here. Look at PCC, REI and other such organizations for proof.”

Aside from the workshops, other highlights include an informal book fair and a sound poetry performance, curated by poet Nico Vassilakis, as well as a Cascadia after party featuring readings by Doug Nufer, Cristin Miller, Arlene Kim, Nicole Hardy and others.

The Cascadia Poetry Festival schedule can be found here. All-access passes are $50, individual workshops $20 and readings are a suggested $5 donation.


Crystal Curry